Just Patterns Kate bias top by Sewing Tidbits

Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 1, Income Report and Lessons Learned

Dear readers,

I want to start by telling you that I have tons of ideas of things I would like to talk about on the blog this year, but I have to admit that I, again, put too much on my plate and I’m currently juggling to make it all work. But I finally managed to complete this post that has been in my draft box for 2 months (yay!!) so grab a coffee because today we are talking business!!

pexels-photo-373076.jpegAfter almost a year of activity in our PDF sewing pattern endeavor, I thought it would be a good time to gather some of our early findings and lessons learned. I’m a great admirer of bloggers operating with a high degrees of transparency.  Income reports are quite common in the blogging world but  not so much in the sewing community. There are of course exceptions, I think most of us are familiar with Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps.  My lovely friend, Sanae Ishida, also discusses her blogger/writer income very openly with Furoku members. Transparency doesn’t necessarily mean discussing $$ at length and I always loved the behind the scenes posts published by various indie pattern designers (like Sewaholic or Closet Case Patterns). For all the years that I delayed taking the leap and starting my own project, reading about it was my little window into that world.

Just Patterns Kate bias top by Sewing Tidbits
Just Patterns Kate Bias Top

The way I approach Just Patterns, is largely shaped by all this generously shared knowledge. So it seems only fair to apply those standards of transparency to myself and share with you what we tried so far and where we stand. I try to be as genuine as possible so I hope it doesn’t come of as complaining, bragging or something like that.  If it does, then you are more than welcome to set me straight! I always felt that this blog was a space where I would always get valuable feedback from you, which is why I’m sharing my thoughts so openly with you.

2017 in numbers

5 patterns released

370 patterns sold:

  • 345 on Etsy (our main shop)
  • 24 on Makerist (we listed 3 patterns there in December)
  • 1 on Craftsy

1383$ of revenue:

  • 1315$ on Etsy
  • 65$ in Makerist (We listed there in preparation of a sale, so basically patterns were sold at 50% off)
  • 3$ on Craftsy

289$ of e-commerce fees:

  • 115$ for Etsy Credit Card Processing
  • 155$ for other Etsy Fees
  • 19$ for Makerist Commission

892$ of other Expenses:

  • 210$ for digitizing (that includes our current patterns and some of our future releases)
  • 630$ for the licence of our CAD software.
  • 52$ for the domain of our website

That leaves us with a positive balance of 200$. But that’s not entirely correct because major expenditures are being left out. First, we are currently able to get the photography done professionally at no cost. However, it may not last forever. There are also costs not being charged to the business such as Adobe Illustrator (for which I pay about 240$/year) or fabric for samples. So it would be fairer to say that we approximatively  broke even this year but it does raise the question of the sustainability of our approach.

Lessons and questions

Obviously, getting rich out of selling PDF patterns was never a goal. What I really wanted out this project was to experiment, learn and challenge my own assumptions about what is going on in the world of independent patterns makers. None of the lessons below are breakthroughs, they are things that I believe we already know, but I’m a hard-evidence type of person. So I won’t believe anyone until I see it for myself!

Lesson #1: Simple patterns are the ones that sell

Duh! That one is easy and from looking at other popular indie designers, we know the answer. It’s the simpler styles that sell better. That’s about it. You can spend weeks developing a pattern like Linda but you will sell a lot more Stephanie. The investment is lower, the risk is lower and the sales are higher. Simply put, releasing complex patterns is not a good business decision.

Pattern  Release Date Sales
Linda Wrap Dress  June 2017 57
Stephanie Skirt  March 2017 110
Yasmeen Skirt  December 2017 23
Christy Bias Slipdress  February 2017 73
Kate Bias Top  February 2017 107

Of course, things are more complicated than that. First of all, the process of getting a pattern ready for release is long and sometimes tedious. I find it more rewarding to work on designs I truly love. I’m also not a marketing wiz, so to “sell” a style I need to truly love it! In addition, I believe that releasing more complex styles actually  the credibility of the simpler patterns. By showing that you can achieve this, it gives confidence to customers that your drafting/grading is on point.

Lesson #2: Making money out of sewing patterns is difficult

With Just Patterns, we made the deliberate choice to start at much lower price than the current indie offering. Since then, we were told repeatedly that our patterns were too cheap. We heard it from pretty much everybody: bloggers, customers and fellow indie pattern designers. I’m very stubborn, and I was very committed to our price point but looking at the numbers that I outlined above, I have to admit that we have a sustainability issue. How long will we find the energy and time to do something that is very far from paying even a portion of our own time?

At the current pricing level, we would need to sell significantly more patterns. That would require stronger marketing efforts which is definitely a weakness. Marketing is time consuming and not a favorite of either Eira or myself. It also brings out another question, how big is the market of people who do not expect detailed instructions? Is it that we are not reaching our people or that there are just not that many of them? The answer of this question, which I obviously don’t know, leads to very different paths. If we are not reaching out enough then we need to focus our time on marketing and expanding our horizons. If the answer is that there aren’t that many sewists not looking for detailed instructions then the possibilities are 1/ outsourcing the development of instructions, because there is no way for us to do it, and then hike up the price to the level of other indies 2/sticking to the spare instructions and finding a middle price that allows us to keep catering to the same small crowd in a sustainable manner.

Just Patterns Linda Wrap DressLesson #3: I am terrible at keeping my balance…

I don’t talk about my personal or professional life that much around here but I think most of you know that I have an interesting and demanding day job, and I am the single parent of a small but growing human (in the middle of sleep training…). Obviously those responsibilities come first, and then there is also the need for some kind of social life, the personal sewing, sewing and writing for Sew News, and everything Just Patterns related. Even though her responsibilities are not the same, Eira also has an extremely busy schedule outside our little pattern venture.

I feel lucky because I love every aspect of my life, but I tend to over commit. So I do it all, then I reach my exhaustion point, take a break and restart all over. Exactly what every business book tells you NOT to do. Because it even shows in our online presence. For some time I manage to post regularly on social media and then suddenly disappear. I know it’s bad but I don’t think there is anything i can do about it for now. So I guess I’ll have to hope that our customers are patient and understanding!

The post is getting longer than initially intended so I will break it in two and keep my questions and goals for 2018 for a follow-up post. I hope that the first part was of interest to you, and as always don’t hesitate to let me know what your thoughts are or if you would like me to expand on any of the things I mentioned! 

17 thoughts on “Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 1, Income Report and Lessons Learned

  1. Becky

    I am a early follower of your blog. I have always loved your fashion sense, and I knew you started this pattern venture, but I didn’t receive much in the way of announcements about your patterns. I missed several of them. Maybe this is something that you need to consider emphasizing more in the future. You also need to be on Pattern Review! I assume you are doing as much as you can, but your business deserves to grow and a little more exposure would help, I think. BTW, most sewists really want detailed instructions even if they are advanced in skills. The really good ones still want to learn.

    • Sewing Tidbits

      Thank you Becky!! I have to admit that you are completely right, we definitely don’t do enough around our pattern releases…. We are currently discussing with PR to be sold there because I really think it matters to reach PR visitors.
      And yes, I think you are also correct about instructions. I’m discussing with an illustrator right now but the costs are a little prohibitive…

      • Kate

        Hi Delphine, this was a very interesting insight into your business. I don’t know the genesis of your project or the assumptions you mentioned about what goes on in the world of pattern makers (will you share?) but as a consumer and home dressmaker I find the market to be quite saturated. The popular labels seem to be ones that have a lot of vintage vibe or look very “everyday” and have the advantage of being around for a long time.

        Whereas yours looks very high end which I absolutely love, but in some ways I am hesitant. Even if I have sewed for a long time and need no instructions I rather spend £££ on designer wear because I don’t want to spend hours on something that isn’t a coat, and I really don’t have any fancy occasions to wear super nice things (except office wear and then I definitely don’t want to make that). So that is a long winded way to say I think maybe it is worth reviewing your target market and really understanding who is buying and making.

        Also I understand that marketing is time consuming and hard, probably it is half the battle when trying to make a business. Finally, I would agree that the patterns are way too cheap especially if your overheads are so high. If you are keeping it as a hobby then there is no problem of course but if the intention is to make money then it needs to reflect your time plus a margin.

        This is a very long comment so I stop now – but always happy to chat. I think it’s brilliant that you started the business because there are not many patterns with the vibe that you provide. Good luck with the future plans

      • Sewing Tidbits

        Thank you Kate for your very thoughtful comments!
        I think you are completely right about your assessment of the current offer. I thought your opinion about not wanting to sew designer wear very interesting. We had quite a few comments that our styles are very fancy/dressed up, although to me, they are what I wear in the office (ok maybe not the maxi-skirt ;-)).
        I love our diverse approaches to a handmade wardrobe are. I spend so much of my time in the office that to me, it’s my best invested sewing time! I occasionally sew a tshirt, but it will never be as rewarding for me than a dress that I will reach for over and over when I need to feel confident at my next meeting!

  2. Demesblanchesmains

    I love your work with JustPatterns and I am for one almost never using instructions for clothes, sometimes for lingerie. So spare instructions are good for me. The pricing is also a definite plus of your patterns and seems fairer to me than the one for a lot of indies. I appreciate your transparency but I also think there will be a build-up of buyers in the future at no additional cost for the current patterns.
    For the moment your range appeals to my tastes but not my needs (trousers and jackets and shirts or tops with sleeves mostly). But I will definitely start supporting your business. So good luck and thanks for the great work.

    • Sewing Tidbits

      Thank you for your kind words and helpful ideas! I think you are right about future sales, the real sustainability can only be assessed over the lifetime of a pattern. Point taken on more practical styles, this is what we hope to focus on in 2018!

  3. Chris @ makeandwear

    I love the shape of the Linda dress and I was happy to see that you weren’t just another indie selling basics. However, I’m not a fan of printing pdfs..either at home or at copy shop. I’d happily buy this if it was printed and posted. So I understand I’m not a typical pdf customer.
    Most people who use burda magazine patterns would be comfortable with minimal instructions, so a suggestion would be to post some finished projects on burdastyle.com.
    Also reaching out to a small number of bloggers with a free pattern could be a good marketing tool. It’s what alot of designers do.
    I sold bags online a number of years ago, and although etsy was a good place to start, it is over saturated, and people can get distracted by other shops/ products. Most of my sales came from setting up my own webshop ( wix and weebly were two I used and found very easy to set up). This cut out sales commissions from etsy, although I still had paypal / website fees. It did work out more economical though.
    An alternative to providing more written instructions, could be to add links to any useful instructional blog posts written by customers. I think Jalie do this.
    Also I think your style is quite clearly defined as chic modern classics and suits the market that doesn’t make cutesy dresses in loud prints! Hope some of the above is helpful. ☺

    • Sewing Tidbits

      Thank you for your words and taking the time to comment Chris, it is super useful!
      I totally understand the dislike of printing PDFs, if we ever do print patterns you will be the first one to know. I think that there is a market opening up for Print On Demand patterns (Pattern Review started doing it) and I believe that it will keep expanding in the years to come exactly because there are many customers like you but printing 500 patterns at once is not the best use of resources for designers…
      I didn’t get into all the marketing efforts we tried out. But I did reach out to quite a few bloggers to give away patterns. Out of all the people I reached out to, one told me that she preferred to buy the pattern and give an honest review (and she did and it was glorious!!!) and only another one sewed and posted on Instagram about it. I think that just like me, everybody is super overwhelmed these days with their to-sew list and they just couldn’t get around it.
      Thanks for your advice on setting up our own shop! I am looking into selling directly on our website, but as everything else does, it takes a lot of time to set those things up…
      For each pattern we do provide a curated list of link, that we call a resource page to other blog posts and tutorials available around the web. I’ll definitely go check what Jalie does!

  4. Charlotte

    First off, you may not shutter because I have an entire blog post whose theme is “Just Patterns will save me!” (I’m fretting about not being able to find patterns that look more Vince or Theory—or even J. Crew!—for workwear, rather than Anthropologie.)

    For what it’s worth, I don’t read pattern instructions unless I’m doing something difficult or employing a technique that is wed to the pattern and seems distinct to the pattern maker (those Grainline placket drafts, etc.) and have always nose-crinkled at how much hand-holding happens in indie patterns that appeal to rank beginners. However, I wonder how large the beginner, or simply trepidatious, market is and wonder if other pattern companies find it fruitful to court them.

    This seems like partially an investment question, though. You seem to have little problem investing time but if you increase investment in marketing, etc. and your returns don’t increase in kind, what does that mean?

    I just got off my pattern-fasting backside and bought three of your patterns.

    • Sewing Tidbits

      Dang, that blog post title is catchy!! If it wasn’t my pattern business I would totally use it 😉 I love Vince, and Theory, and Khaite and Protagonist. Basically all the things I really can’t buy! For me, that’s the fun in sewing.
      Well I also wonder about the size of the market, whether beginners or more advanced. because it’s not super common to discuss pattern sales in actual numbers I think we sort of miss a referential of what it means for a pattern to do well and what it means to do not so well. I had a look at the total sales on pattern shops on Etsy which leads me to believe that the market as a whole is large but not huge I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
      Good point about investment, I think that if we invest in marketing and then patterns don’t sell more then it could mean that we found our people already and we can go back to our tiny irregular marketing. Or it could mean that people really want instructions. Or that they don’t like the styles! So many possibilities…
      Thanks so much for buying the patterns!!! Let me know your thoughts if you get around to sewing them! Now I feel like my post sounds like whine. Hopefully it doesn’t..

  5. maryfunt

    Wow. So much information and you raise so many questions about pricing, marketing, target audience, printing, etc., etc. I don’t know if any of the other indie pattern makers (the successful ones) will tell you how long it took for their patterns to “catch on.” Your costs were high in the first year because the time and money to design, draft, grade and test the pattern is all upfront cost. Now that those are done for the patterns you already have, next year’s sales should be pure profit, less Etsy fees. I see the feedback is mixed about needing more instructions vs. being happy with a less expensive pattern. You and I have discussed Kathleen Fasanella and her knowledge of the clothing/pattern industry. I know that writing and illustrating instructions isn’t easy and, given the time needed to master it, is best left to the pros but that is expensive and your target sewer may not need/want to pay for it. I saw you are listed on the Pattern Review drop down box for pattern companies. Any idea how many customers came from that source? What about sewing magazines featuring your designs? I know you write for SewNews. Do they have a section devoted to featured patterns and be willing to include you from time to time? I’m looking forward to the next test pattern. I don’t know how you do it: work, baby, pattern business.

  6. Jocelyn Stoddard

    I don’t know much about the business of sewing, but to me these patterns fit a comparative gap in the market. I want grown-up clothes that I can wear to work and out in the evening. I don’t want pages of instructions (though I do like ticking off each section as I complete it!), or to make things so simple that they probably don’t fit that well. Would it be possible to work with a fabric store to sell kits? It can be hard to find those beautiful plain wools and silks your samples are made in – and the Linda dress said dark red and navy blue to me – and quite a few other women! Also, indie and other patterns make a huge deal of variations: even something as simple as a short-sleeved option or a different hem length. I really like these patterns, and would be happy to pay more – good luck!

  7. 24

    Ton article est très intéressant, merci de partager autant de détails !
    Concernant la complexité des patrons, cela réduit certainement le marché, mais je trouve que c’est une qualité très appréciable ! Je serai en première ligne le jour ou vous proposeriez ce fameux patron de manteau !
    Me vient aussi une réflexion par rapport à une de tes réponses sur les “to-sew lists”, que peut-être les patrons simples sont plus facilement “consommés” immédiatement, comme un produit du moment, et donc cousus assez vite…
    Concernant les instructions, je fais partie de celles qui apprécient qu’elles soient succinctes. Et même si je peux avoir besoin de plus de détails, cela me convient très bien d’avoir des ressources vers lesquelles me tourner. Mais c’est sûr que c’est personnel, et que cela aussi cible une clientèle plus restreinte. J’avais également Burda en tête, comme une autre personne. Je me disais qu’à la manière du magazine vous pourriez avoir un type d’instruction intermédiaire, détaillé, mais sans schéma, et en considérant certaines techniques comme “acquises”. Et en écrivant me vient encore une réflexion : est-ce que votre cible est forcément “connectée” ? Y-a-t-il beaucoup de couturières expérimentées qui ne fréquentent pas l’internet de la couture ?
    Quant à l’équilibre personnel 🙂 c’est déjà parfois une gageure en ayant rayé un temps la partie professionnelle, alors avec une vie remplie comme la tienne, c’est un combat ! Mais je me dis que si Just Patterns est destiné à rester un complément pour vous, ça peut avoir du sens que les choses prennent juste du temps, à la mesure du temps que vous avez à consacrer à cette aventure. Il est certain qu’un marketing plus actif vous permettrait de vous développer, mais évoluer lentement n’est pas négatif. En fonction de votre travail à chacune, et de l’âge de ta fille, les choses varieront nécessairement. Et ceci, tant que travailler à ce projet vous apporte plus qu’il ne vous pèse !
    J’aurai aimé participé à la conversation en anglais, mais quand je veux écrire autant cela me prend beaucoup de temps !

  8. elombuasu

    I haven’t bought any of your patterns, so my comments are strictly hypothetical, but regarding the sales of the Linda wrap, I’d venture to say that perhaps your photo on Etsy didn’t do your sales any good. To me, the armhole fit didn’t look “relaxed,” it looked off–too big, or too far out on the shoulder. Your own version looked great, but you’d said on your blog that you had graded down, and you commented later that your testers thought the dress was too loose so you’d revamped it. I think especially for a new company, if there’s anything off with the pics, folks will pass, and it would be interesting to know if it sold better after you resized it. It’s also possible that since you don’t have instructions, people thought they could wing a skirt with pleats, or a little bias top, but for a more complicated item, that became more of an issue. I’ll also add–the lack of instructions doesn’t seem to have hurt Marfy any, and that really should be your market–confident seamstresses with enough background to know how to put something together, and how to find directions if they don’t. I don’t think booklet-long instructions with lots of diagrams are necessary, (unless you’ve got really weird-shaped pieces, like Okistyle, which are un-assembl-able without all the photos online).

    I also hate PDFs, that’s another good reason to be on PR, so they can do the printing for us, at least those of us in the U.S.

    And while I’m here, I’d like to put in a plug for a little sleeveless silk shell–weren’t you working on copying a Chanel one? For a simple, straightforward article of clothing, it’s remarkably difficult to find a pattern, and I’d certainly be your customer if you put one out.

  9. Bel

    Hi there. I know this is a long time later, but I just wanted to say that I LOVE your patterns. I have four, and just this evening made another Kate bias top to take away on holiday with me next week. I think there are plenty of sewists out there that don’t need instructions.

    You really could and should put your prices up. I would so happily pay you more for your work. The patterns are beautifully drafted, and I too have found it a real challenge to find simple but beautifully drafted patterns.

    And I would also love to see a simple shell…..

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